Second-season premiere of ‘Life on Mars,' Wednesday on ABC

Verne Gay
LIFE ON MARS - Returns Wednesday night at 10 EST on ABC
Newsday (MCT)

REASON TO WATCH: A fond and funkadelic look at New York City as it appeared 35 years ago. (Oh, yeah, and Michael Imperioli, in Fu Manchu and 'burns.)

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Modern-day NYPD cop Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara), in a coma, awakens in 1973 NYC, where he's a member of the 1-2-5 Precinct, and suddenly discovers his Inner Polyester Suit. Based on the BBC series.

CATCHING UP: In the final episode before the series went on hiatus in November, Tyler entered a shack, the phone rang, and a voice on the other end told him to go down to the basement. Will he find the answers to his predicament there, or maybe a one-way ticket back to the 21st century?

THIS WEEK: About a rivalry between Lt. Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel) and the squad at the 1-4-4 over the Russian mob; no review copy available. Next week picks up the "basement" story.

THE PRODUCER SAYS: In a phone interview, Andre Nemec - showrunner along with "Alias" alum Josh Appelbaum and Scott Rosenberg - says, "We're all sort of bullish around here, with the new time slot, and being behind 'Lost.'" The series will continue to deviate from the BBC's because "if you're trying to enjoy the mythology and why Sam Tyler is where he is, you could just Wikipedia the answer ... We continue to turn, adjust and twist what is happening to Sam, we have a very strong sense of where we're going."

BOTTOM LINE: After one of the best pilots of the '08 season, "Mars" settled into a notch above "average" last fall - a disappointment, considering a hugely promising start. In a strange way, osmosis took over. A show with a shrewd and original point of view on '70s culture - notably TV and music - slowly became a '70s cop show itself: sometimes predictable, sometimes cliched and sometimes mawkish. Meanwhile, O'Mara - a fine character actor - has struggled mightily to locate Sam. His eyes widen when he's surprised; he dimples up when he wants to impart misty-eyed sentimentality; he thrusts out his chin when he wants to act tough. "Mars" and O'Mara need to get better than this. With 10 episodes to go this season, there is hope.

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